Last Night: Brad Paisley at Cruzan Amphitheatre, August 14

Categories: Concert Review
Brad Paisley and Darius Rucker (Cruzan 8_14_2010)_by Ian Witlen-84S.jpg
Photo by Ian Witlen
Brad Paisley
With Justin Moore and Darius Rucker
Cruzan Amphitheatre, West Palm Beach
Saturday, August 14, 2010

View a slideshow from the concert here.

The Review:

As Brad Paisley's band played the opening notes of his latest chart-topping hit, "Water," a ridiculously huge video screen loomed in the background with images of a swimming pool. While a giant projection of the country megastar emerged from the pool onscreen, the real-life Paisley emerged simultaneously from a part of the stage designed vaguely to resemble an above-ground pool, prompting screams of delight from the audience. This was but one highlight of Paisley's H2O Tour, a Saturday of entertainment under one big top at West Palm Beach's Cruzan Amphitheatre that showed his mad skills both as a ringmaster and magician.

Early arrivals braving the midafternoon heat swarmed ringmaster Paisley's carnival-style Water World Plaza, complete with fishing and driving simulators, volunteers from the Water=Hope Campaign, and a full concert featuring up-and-comer Easton Corbin of "A Little More Country Than That" fame opened, followed by equally promising newcomers Josh Thompson and Steel Magnolia, whose hit "Keep on Loving You" managed to sound lovely and harmonious even from a distance.

Once the focus shifted to the main stage, opening acts Justin Moore and Hootie and the Blowfish-frontman-gone-solo Darius Rucker skillfully navigated what appeared to be a precariously narrow area near the front of the stage to accommodate Paisley's enormous stage setup, which remained concealed by a giant black curtain. Backed by a keyboardist and drummer on raised platforms, Rucker fit three tunes from his Hootie days: "Let Her Cry," "Only Wanna Be With You," and a surprisingly funky version of "Hold My Hand." In addition to his solo hits, "It Won't Be Like This for Long" and "Don't Think I Don't Think About It," he balanced his new country direction and his pop past by covering the Hank Williams Jr. song "Family Tradition" and closing his 11-song set with Prince's "Purple Rain."

When Paisley took to the stage a short time later, his skills as a magician were revealed in dramatic fashion. Throughout his two-hour set, Paisley the magician alternated between his many blinged-out guitars with about the same frequency as Lady Gaga changes outfits and took full advantage of the video screen's capability, using it to conjure up a virtual Andy Griffith for a duet on "Waitin' on a Woman" and Allison Krauss for "Whisky Lullaby." In the case of Krauss, the digital version of the singer appeared so eerily realistic that it took us a second to register that it wasn't actually her.

About midway into the show, he thrilled the crowd by running to a second stage area stationed in the middle of the audience, where he remained for three songs. Yet Paisley was at his best when he switched into storyteller mode. He opened his song "Letter to Me" by reminiscing about his days as a scared 17-year-old. "High school is not necessarily the best years of your life," the 37-year-old told the teens in the audience. After closing with the love ballad "Then," Paisley and company returned for two encores: "Ticks" and "Alcohol," his ode to the stuff that, as he puts it, has been "helping white people dance" for ages.

Critic's notebook

Better than: being in a sauna, although it felt like one at times, thanks to the humidity.

Personal bias: My friend who accompanied me doesn't listen to country music, and most of her knowledge of Paisley comes from seeing his wife, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, in her role as Annie in the 1991 movie Father of the Bride. Afterward, she declared the show entertaining and Paisley's music quite infectious. "You can't help wanting to sing along with it," she said.

Random detail: Paisley is older than me by 15 days.

By the way: Security had to drag an unruly concertgoer from the front row during Rucker's set. Apparently heat and alcohol don't mix.

Set list:
American Saturday Night
Wrapped Around
She's Everything
You Do the Math
Waitin' on a Woman
Catch All the Fish
Letter to Me
Mud on the Tires
I'm Still a Guy
Whiskey Lullaby
The World
I'm Gonna Miss Her
Welcome to the Future

Alcohol (with Steel Magnolia, Easton Corbin, Josh Thompson, Darius Rucker, and Justin Moore)

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